Japan election bodes ill for casinos; Tokyo cops arrest robot casino dealer

japan-casino-robot-dealerJapan’s casino hopes took yet another blow after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called a snap election for December 14. Monday brought news that Japan’s economy had contracted for the second straight quarter, suggesting it was growing immune to the stimulating powers of Abenomics. On Tuesday, Abe went on TV to say the nation was divided as to its economic policies so the government needed to “listen to the voice of the people.” Critics are saying Abe knows the economy is tanking and wants to win another term before the full rot sets in.

Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has been the engine behind Japan’s push to pass legislation authorizing integrated resort casinos. The LDP has touted casinos’ ability to boost Japan’s economy but opposition politicians – including those in Komeito, the LDP’s upper-house coalition partner – are still leery of potential social evils. Earlier this month, the LDP gave up attempting to pass its casino enabling bill in the parliamentary session that ends on Nov. 30, saying there was too little time for debate. The plan was to raise the issue again in the first of two parliamentary sessions in 2015.

Should Abe and the LDP escape an electoral drubbing next month, the contentious casino bill would not likely come up for further debate until 2015’s second session. This would virtually guarantee that no new gaming facility would be ready by the start of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Nihon University College of Economics assistant professor Kazuaki Sasaki told GGRAsia a delay of debate until 2015’s second session was a “best case scenario.”

Worse, if the LDP gets taken to the woodshed, it’s unclear whom – if anyone – would take up Japan’s casino torch. And it would be one cruel holiday present for the hordes of hopeful international casino operators who have been aggressively wooing the nation and its massive and relatively untapped gambling market.

In the meantime, Japan’s baccarat fans continue to patronize illegal casinos, including the one Tokyo Metropolitan Police busted on Tuesday. A police raid on a parlor in the Kabukicho red-light district resulted in the arrest of over 20 staff and customers. The operators had required new customers to sign documents attesting to their having no association with triad activity and the police say they seized a list of 450 customer names. Police said the casino had been open for a year and had earned revenue of around ¥360m (US $$3.1m).

Twelve of those arrested were employees, many of them dealers. A different bust earlier this month uncovered a more cost-conscious gambling den. On Nov. 5, Tokyo cops raided another parlor in Kabukicho, arresting seven individuals, only two of which were employees. According to the Sankei Shimbun, the Atom parlor kept staffing costs down by utilizing a ‘robot dealer.’

The robot, which was made in Taiwan, was actually a robotic arm (pictured, in white) that dealt cards to customers who wagered via touch-panel monitors. Tokyo police claim their mechanical miscreant was the first such set up encountered anywhere in the country. The robot was even a selling point for street touts who drummed up business for the casino. The news has no doubt prompted one or more Macau casino moguls to dream of a day when they no longer have to employ those demanding humans